CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- "His word was better than a contract," said Petty Officer 1st Class Glen E. Webster, the emotion evident as his voice caught on the words.
He was remembering not only his fellow sailor, but his friend, Petty Officer 1st Class Jerry A. Tharp, who was killed in action July 12, 2006, while conducting operations in the Al Anbar Province of western Iraq.
A memorial service was held at the base's main chapel here for his fellow service members to honor his sacrifice July 21, 2006, which included a picture presentation, along with a time for personal reflections and a ceremonial rifle salute following the playing of Taps.
Tharp was a Navy Seabee with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 25, based out of Fort McCoy, Wis., and was working with the Marine Corps' 9th Engineer Support Battalion. He was remembered as a quality family man who took pride in his work, an infectiously humorous individual who loved to fix any machine in need of repair.
After the ceremony concluded, everyone in the audience was given the chance to pause and pay remembrance in their own moment of tribute to the fallen warrior.
Those who knew Tharp best honored him with letters read aloud on their behalf by Chief Petty Officer Ronald L. Genco, a 38-year-old native of Clinton, Iowa, and the leading CPO of the detachment.
"His whole life was infectious; to know him was to laugh," said Genco, reading from a letter. "He was a helpful, kind and caring man. I will miss him dearly and whenever I think of him, I will smile."
One of Tharp's fellow sailors back in the United States, having known him for nearly two decades, remembered him as one who "would give you the shirt off his back."
A close friend of Tharp's wrote, "He exemplified what a best friend should be. He was full of vibrant life, had a caring heart and possessed a unique outlook on life. Jerry had a gift for making friends with nearly everyone he met."
"Any loss like this is very difficult; however, this one is particularly difficult for many members of our unit," said Navy Lt. Timothy V. Bray. With NMCB-25 being a reserve unit, many of the sailors are from the same hometowns, some having worked for the same civilian company before being activated for deployment.
The proximity means close relationships for many within the unit, said Bray.
"The reservist Seabee community is a very tight one," he said. Many in the unit had known Tharp for over a decade.
Bray, the officer in charge of the NMCB-25 detachment here, said Tharp thoroughly enjoyed his role in Iraq.
Seabees are known as the Navy's construction force used on the frontlines throughout history to provide an enhanced construction and engineering capability to deployed forces. Arriving in Iraq in late spring this year, Tharp and his fellow Seabees settled in as a construction force tasked with a variety of projects for different units in what is arguably the most dangerous region of Iraq.
"He was working with concrete and he was doing a big thing to help others, and those were two things he dearly loved doing," said Bray, a 35-year-old native of Crosslake, Minn.
Nicknamed "Pumping Jerry" due to his work with concrete pumps in the civilian sector, Tharp was tasked with helping repair the numerous potholes and other craters from improvised explosive devices that "riddled our supply routes," said Bray.
"Although it wasn't glamorous, (Tharp's) work was essential to the overall mission accomplishment of Coalition Forces in Iraq," Bray said. "There's no doubt in my mind (his) work saved numerous lives."
He enlisted in the Navy April 21st, 1994, at the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Rock Island, Ill. He had previously served in the Army Reserve from 1978 to 1984.
He received numerous awards over the course of his career, to include the Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat "V", and the Navy Battle "E" Ribbon (three awards.)
Those who knew Tharp will miss him, but for a brief time they were able to come together and fondly remember him for the big grin ever-present on his friendly face.
Email Cpl. Redding at email@example.com.